Is The 2004 NFL QB Draft Class The Best Ever?

Eli Manning has two rings….were they better than the 1983 class?

With 3 members of the great quarterback class of 1983 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, at first glance you might say no. Until you realize the class of 2004 has 4 Super Bowl rings won between Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Not only are they in the prime of their careers but you have to include Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub and Phillip Rivers as well. Many pundits have the Houston Texans as an AFC favorite to make this year’s Super Bowl and Phillip Rivers has made the AFC Championship along with a couple of Pro Bowls. How do they stack against the great classes of the past??

Well for starters this class didn’t have to live up to the expectations of the class of 1999. Remember that group? Donovan McNabb, Duante Culpepper, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Cade McNown were the hot quarterbacks anointed to challenge the class of 1983 yet came up woefully short. Couch, Smith, and McNown were out of the league within 5 years. Culpepper had some big seasons culminating with an NFC Championship visit in 2000 and had his best season in 2004 with 4,717 yards and 39 TDs. After that he was a journeyman playing for several teams.

As for Donovan McNabb, he was the face of the Philadelphia Eagles and led them to 4 straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance. He played with distinction for well over a decade and was a Pro Bowl quarterback 6 times including 5 straight years (2000-2004). For his career, he threw for 37,726 yards and 234 touchdowns while crossing the 3,000 yard threshold in 8 different seasons. Yet no Super Bowl victories. The class of ’99 only had 1 Super Bowl appearance.

Which brings us to the hallowed class of 1983. Dan Marino, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Todd Blackledge, Ken O’Brien, and Tony Eason were the signal callers who were going to dominate pro football for the next 15 years. They did….well kind of. With all of them going to the AFC, the next decade worth of drafts were slanted to pass protecters, specialist linebackers who defensed the pass better than the run along with receivers, and cornerbacks to cover them. The AFC took to the air as their earthbound counterparts in the NFC were rooted in the ground with power running schemes and more stout physical defenses. As the decade wore on each of the class of 83 started making their way to the Super Bowl. One after the other they went down in Super Bowls XIX- XXVIII in 10 straight games. Only after the Denver Broncos built John Elway an NFC team did the class of ’83 finally win two Super Bowls. Four of them reached the Super Bowl and three of them made it to multiple Super Bowls. While Elway, Kelly, and Marino rewrote the record books: Were they better than the ’04 class??

Big Ben has had playoff heroics that are either equal or surpass those of John Elway

The biggest issue the newer quarterbacks face is perception. The media fawned over John Elway being the prototypical quarterback (6’3, blonde hair, golden arm) that he rarely faced detractors until his Super Bowl losses. Sportswriters of the time lauded Marino for his cool in the face of a blitz, and Kelly for his toughness. Roethlisberger, because of a few off field incidents, is rarely thought of in high regard when it comes to writers who romanticize the game’s players. His scrambles and daring play are every bit as good as John Elway’s and has won more games for the Steelers than most can keep count. Where Elway had The Drive (Elway’s 98 yard drive to tie the 1986 AFC Championship Game) Roethlisberger led a last second drive culminating with a last second touchdown throw to win Super Bowl XLIII with :42 seconds left. We hardly hear of it talked about in the air of Elway’s drive when Big Ben’s was greater because it won a Super Bowl. Why?? Talk about playoff heroics… What about the 3rd and 19, 58 yard bomb to Antonio Brown with 2:00 left in the 2010 playoff with the Ravens?? It led to the game winning score and another Super Bowl visit. Others in that instance would have played for overtime. Yet where is the coverage of his daring or a nickname for either of these moments??

Did we say last second drives to win Super Bowls?? Well Eli Manning has two. Not only did he take down an undefeated Patriot team in 1 Super Bowl (2007), he proved it wasn’t a fluke with an encore performance in the 46th edition. Where Elway won one conference championship game with a last minute drive on the road, Eli has done that twice now in Green Bay and San Francisco in overtime. He has become the NFL’s all time winningest quarterback in the playoffs with 8 wins away from home, he set the record for road wins in a season with 11. Then what may go down as one of the defining games of his career happened last Sunday. After throwing 3 interceptions early in the game to put his Giants in a hole, Eli comes back with 240 yards passing in the 4th quarter alone in beating Tampa Bay 41-34. The Giants scored 25 points in that final period as Manning threw for 510 yards overall. He came within 45 yards of the all time record of 554 set by Norm Van Brocklin in 1950.

Comparing these two classes is one-sided in the favor of the ’04 group when it comes to Super Bowls. The latter group is 4-1 in the big game where the ’83 group was 2-10. Where John Elway was the winningest quarterback in NFL history at one time, folks are slow to notice Roethlisberger is approaching 100 with a total of 84 right now. To further tilt matters this group is in it’s prime and how many Super Bowl visits are in the near future when we include Matt Schaub and possibly a Phillip Rivers (both are 2-0 to start 2012). As of right now there are 3 busts in Canton from the earlier group but this one is better and hasn’t come close to finishing their run yet. They need to get the respect their elders did concerning their on-field heroics.

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Week 15 Monday Night Football: Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Francisco 49ers

"Did you hear?? Baltimore lost to San Diego last night!"

Well doesn’t this have a good ring to it?? These teams are coming in with a ton of NFL playoff implications tied to this football game. The first is the San Francisco 49ers are trying to catch the Green Bay Packers, for homefield advantage on the NFC side of the ledger. Although they have won their division, they have been caught by the New Orleans Saints who are 1/2 a game up on the 49ers for the #2 seed. In other words, the 49ers need this game in more ways than one. They need it for playoff positioning and also to prove they can stand up to the best AFC teams. They were handled in Balitmore Thanksgiving Night 16-6, and being new to the league’s elite they need to prove to themselves they can beat an established team. The Niners come into this game 10-3 and face the 10-3 Steelers.

The Steelers come into this game without their enforcer in linebacker James Harrison who is serving a one game suspension. However this team had to deal with his missing four games from an orbital bone fracture earlier in the year. With Lawrence Timmons & Larry Foote, the Steelers are able to rotate linebackers to continue playing the same defense and rush the passer along with stopping the run. This year’s edition hasn’t forced the turnovers of previous editions yet comes in with the #1 defense. Thanks to early injuries to this defense, which is one of the eldest in all of football, they are healthy on defense at the right time and they’re rested.

Unsung versatile linebacker Larry Foote

They also have to rally around an injured Ben Roethlisberger who has a high ankle sprain but this is the type of rock ’em sock ’em game the  Steelers thrive in. It may be hard for Roethlisberger to move around and make plays but he plays with grit and has to will his offense down the field. For the season he’s completed 64.5% of his passes for 3,526 yards 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He’s on pace for another 4,000 yard season and people have to get over the illusion that the Steelers are a running team. Sure they are a running team first, but Ben is what makes this offense go. They say it’s a game time decision but Big Ben, sitting out this game?? Stop, he’ll be under center tonight bank on it. Especially with Baltimore stumbling last night in San Diego, now the Steelers are in control of the AFC North, the second seed in the AFC playoffs or possibly home field throughout.

Yet coming in with the league’s #4 defense is the San Francisco 49ers. Did you know they haven’t given up a rushing touchdown all year?? They are trying to become the first team in league history not to give up a rushing touchdown for the season. Now that is a record. Furthermore did you know that in the Super Bowl era, for every team that didn’t give up a rushing touchdown in the first 10 games, all of which made it to at least the conference championship?? So take a guess who is #1 against the run in the NFL?? Getting the picture??

Underappreciated as the #1 rushing defense in football. Folks will learn of Justin Smith and the rest of the defense. It's more than Patrick Willis.

Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall better have on their big boy pads tonight.  Frank Gore “Didn’t he ask to be traded?? Oh that was pre-season!” has 1,054 yards and 6 touchdowns and has to be at his best for San Francisco to win. He currently ranks 6th but should end tonight as the league’s #3 rusher.  Suprisingly Rashard Mendenhall is 24th in the league in rushing with 710 yards yet he has 8 touchdowns. Can Mendenhall and company break the rushing touchdown drought of the Niners?? Well they better get their pad lower than they did on the goal line at home versus Cleveland.

In the end, Big Ben is going to win this game with a few plays out of the pocket. Alex Smith is enjoying a good season but will see ghosts of that Thanksgiving Game as Lamarr Woodley will come off the corner as Terrell Suggs did in that one. The difference is going to be the quarterback… Big Ben will win it where Alex Smith will try to manage it.  You don’t manage against Blitzburgh. Yet the 49ers aren’t battle tested enough to knock off Pittsburgh.

OUR PICK: STEELERS 20-13 OVER 49ERS

2011 Steelers Preview

Welcome to the casual Friday version of the Taylor Blitz Times.  Time to look at what the Steelers have to address as we look into the crystal ball and figure what this team needs to address going into 2011.  While it’s true Pittsburgh has made it to 3 Super Bowls in 5 years they do have a few things to address.   The Steelers have another solid year of being clearly better than all but Baltimore in their division.  The Browns are improving and the Bengals aren’t sure if they are coming or going, especially with the ongoing Carson Palmer saga.  Yet a closer look and there are some positions where the Steelers are showing age and wear.  This can haunt a team that is used to winning close games for a fickle bounce of the ball one way late can turn what would have been a win into a loss.  So lets get started.

Quarterback: Big Ben Roethlisberger, who doesn’t play according to the quarterback ratings system and doesn’t seem to be a polished passer.  He’s not in the Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning class right? Thats perception until you look at the actual numbers. In 2010 Roethlisberger threw for 17 TDs and only 5 interceptions and had a passer rating of 97.0.  His TD to interception ratio is as good as any QB in the NFL.  His never give up on a play attitude does lead to some sacks and turnovers but it also leads to breathtaking plays like the 59 yard bomb to rookie Antonio Brown, with 2 minutes to go in the divisional playoff with the Ravens.  His comebacks are more schizophrenic than artistic yet his statistics are starting to show he belongs in the upper echelon of quarterbacks.

Going into his 7th season Ben is clearly in his prime.  In 2009 he threw for over 4,300 yards and 26tds a season after throwing for a career high 32tds in 2007.  Scrambling and making plays has masked a deficient running game a few years back and now a suspect offensive line.  You have to give him credit he’s a winner.  He had an off game early in Super Bowl XLV against the Packers, yet battled back in that one as well.   Still on the upswing…

Offensive Backfield: The Steelers are set for the forseeable future with Mendenhall.  A physical runner with quick, patient feet.  No running back in football defines his team with his style of play.  Although he’s had back to back 1,100 yard seasons, 1,273 in 2010, and he’s done so behind a patchwork offensive line  which needs to be improved.  Could challenge for a rushing title behind a better line. Entering his 4th season, he’s proven durable and may have his best season.  He wants to make good after his 4th quarter Super Bowl fumble and you know he’s living with it this entire off-season.  Look for him to come into 2011 with a serious chip on his shoulder.  Mewelde Moore is a capable backup and can fill in for Mendenhall in spells yet is better as a back on screens and draws than off tackle plays.   A little of Mendenhall has rubbed off on Moore who has run with more authority since Rashard’s arrival.

Offensive Line: A beleaguered group did hit a good note with the drafting of center Maurkice Pouncey.  He can anchor the Steelers line for many years to come.  Where there are issues is when you move out to Tackle.  Flozell Adams was only a stop gap measure for the injuries to both Willie Colon and Max Starks.  The Ravens Terrell Suggs had 3 sacks against this line in the divisional playoff also.  When healthy, Starks has problems with quicker pass rushing ends and linebackers anyway.  Look to the Steelers to draft some help here.

Contrary to popular belief, this line doesn’t get as much push in the running game as it seems.  They have benefited from Mendenhall breaking tackles and making them look better than they have played.  Much like Roethlisberger’s scrambles have helped their sack numbers.  In the Super Bowl you could see this when Mendenhall was hit in the backfield 6 times on rushing plays including the critical 4th quarter fumble that sealed the Steelers fate.  More and more drives depend on Ben making a play to keep drives alive than the Steelers powering the ball down opponents throats.  That deficiency clearly comes from this line not getting much push.   Need a serious upgrade and should use 2 draft picks here.

Receivers: After the loss of Santonio Holmes, I for one, thought this would be a weakness that would come back to haunt the Steelers.  The emergence of Mike Wallace, who was a Pro Bowl snub, more than made up for Holmes departure.  Wallace’s performance?  60 receptions for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns with a whopping 21 yards per reception and no Pro Bowl? Come on man!  This deep, threat entering his third year, played better than expected and compliments Big Ben’s scrambling to put fear in rival defenses and will only get better.  Rookie Antonio Brown started to emerge as the playoffs neared and should replace Randle El.  He showed explosive speed as well and was a jolt to the Steelers special teams and will come into year 2 brimming with confidence.

Hines Ward has really slowed, he looked like a tight end through much of last year.  He’s been a durable Hall of Fame receiver who may retire before we get to the 2011 season. The Steelers will need to develop a possession receiver or move to more 2 tight ends if Ward doesn’t come back.  If he does look to teams running man under coverage and smothering him on underneath routes because he can’t get deep.  He may need to be platooned and come out in certain situations. He’s slowed too much.  At tight end Matt Spaeth and Heath Miller are the best one – two punch in football. Each block and are sure handed underneath receivers and bail Ben out on those 3rd and 4 scrambles.   At receiver, the Steelers are really in good shape.

Defensive Line: Although this team was one of history’s most stout defensive fronts, this team can become old and give up yards in a hurry like the Steel Curtain of the 70’s did in 1980.  DE Aaron Smith enters his 13th year along with fellow DE Brett Keisel going into his 10th.  At NT, you have Casey Hampton entering his 11th season while his backup Chris Hoke is going into his 10th…Yikes!! They could be on the verge of a defensive collapse. They really had no affect in Super Bowl XLV.  They did draft Ziggy Hood who has been a little more consistent as of late but 2011 could be the last hurrah with fingers crossed that 2010 wasn’t for this group.  Face it from halftime of the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets on through the Super Bowl, this group was non existent.  The Packers and Jets ran when they wanted to.  Watchout…seriously

Linebackers: Don’t look now but the Steelers are getting a little long in the tooth at inside linebacker also.  James Farrior has quietly been one of football’s best ILBs for the last six years.  He’s been a consumate pro since he came over from the NY Jets yet he’s entering his 15th season.  The Steelers brought back Larry Foote who played well last year and he’s entering his 10th season while they’re backup Keyaron Fox is entering his 8th.  Fox also had a dumb personal foul call on the kickoff before the Steelers final drive that pushed them back to a point of desperation in the Super Bowl.  The Steelers need to draft here to prepare for the enevitable.

At outside linebacker this team couldn’t be more set with former NFL Defensive Player of the Year in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.  The best set of outside linebackers in football bar none.  Even if one of them goes down, the Steelers have Lawrence Timmons out of Florida State, whom they play out of position as a nickel inside linebacker just to get him on the field.  Harrison and Woodley are stout against the run and rush the passer as well as any set of linebackers in history.  Their disappearance in Super Bowl XLV was puzzling….Woodley, Farrior, and Harrison combined for only 7 tackles in that football game.  The Packers handled this team at the line of scrimmage and no one was used to that.  Need to draft some inside linebacker help….

Secondary: The word for today kids is exposure.  LOL  Ike Taylor and William Gay were struggling to chase down Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in the Super Bowl.  Do you realize had Jordy held onto the 3 passes he dropped he would have broken Jerry Rice’s Super Bowl receiving record for yardage?  This bunch got scorched once the pass rush was stymied.  Need legitimate help here. Taylor is a free agent and may leave, barring the team that tries to sign him not look at the Super Bowl footage, yet I digress.  a stat was floating around that this was the 22nd best defensive backfield as a group yet it was the corners who were the Achilles heal.  Help needed immediately

For the safeties are the best in football as a tandem in NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark out of LSU.  However how long can these two play at such a high level?  Polamalu is going into year 9 and Clark is going into year 10 and the pounding is taking its toll on Troy who has missed 5 games in the last two seasons due to injury.  He rushed to come back and wasn’t the same player and you saw he couldn’t get to the corner to stop Aaron Rodgers throws over the corner.  Troy just couldn’t get there.  When healthy he is the most instinctive defensive players in the NFL and will go to the Hall of Fame.  Has his physical style of play rendered his body to the point he can’t complete a full season anymore?? Hmmm??

Draft, draft, draft!!  There are some needs everywhere from both the offensive and defensive lines, the inside linebacker position and cornerback. Age can really hit this team all at once.  Although its not likely they just have to prepare.  This is that last season where they are clearly better than the rest of the division.  They are about to transition into being more of an offensive football team than that of a defensive one.   The defense will need to be rebuilt in 2012. The Steelers have to get younger.

2011 Packers Preview

Alright we had a break after a breath taking Super Bowl where we watched the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in the 45th edition.  So now we turn our attention to the upcoming football season.  We want to avoid the labor talks because we’ll all be inundated with that talk through television outlets and we want to keep the talk on pro football.  Where do we begin?  How about where we left off?  Going into 2011, we watched the Green Bay Packer’s 2nd string win the Super Bowl.  If we were to address issues with the defending champion where would you start.  Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson have to be grinning from ear to ear.

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers joined the pantheon of quarterbacks that are the vanguard of future expected excellence at the quarterback position.  Accurate, mobile, and fearless he stands to wrest the mantle of NFL’s best QB from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning with an excellent 2011.  Think about it.  Of the 3 Super Bowl seasons Tom Brady had the best statistically was 2004, where he threw for 3,690 yards 28TDs, and 14 interceptions.  Last year despite missing 2 games with injury, Rodgers threw for 3,922 yards 28 TDs and only 11 interceptions for the Packers.  More importantly he didn’t have Corey Dillon run for 1,635 like Brady had either.  Rodgers had to manufacture yardage while the Packers ground game struggled to replace Ryan Grant.

Mobile, accurate, and fearless he is the first quarterback since Brady that we knew he had the better part of a decade left to shape his career after a Super Bowl triumph.  Barring injury, Rodgers would have thrown for 4,000 yards for a third consecutive season and second straight with more than 30TDs.  With Brady and Manning going into their “grey” years this is one of the quarterbacks that will own this decade.  Matt Flynn showed in the 24-21 loss to the Patriots he can move the football if Rodgers has some time away from the field.  As for Rodgers (shaking my head) Clearly on the rise…

Offensive Backfield: How can this team not get stronger with a return of a healthy Ryan Grant?  His 3,412 yards on 782 carries over the last three years is a lofty 4.36 yards per carry. Back to back 1,200 yard rushing seasons have shown that he can be a workhorse.  With his injury coming early in the season he saved his body from wear and tear and should be fresh coming into the new year.  James Starks and Brandon Jackson are serviceable.  I see the Packers exploiting Starks to spell Grant in the upcoming year.  He didn’t fumble in the playoffs as a rookie and had patient feet as a runner.  Jackson will be relegated to special teams since Grant is a good receiver out of the backfield.  Starks came into his own going into the playoffs and to play that well with the stakes at their highest, his confidence should be soaring coming into the new year.

Packers have a folk hero in John Kuhn whom fans relate to. His emergence along with Boise State product Korey Hall give Green Bay power backs to move the pile on 3rd and 1 or goalline offense.  However, both Kuhn and Hall have to get their noses dirty as blockers and each do so willingly.  The fullbacks will lose carries to Starks.   Look for the Packers to use Starks and his big body behind either Kuhn or Hall on most short yardage situations and save Grant from heavy pounding.  With all defensive eyes on Rodgers this could be quietly the best backfield in Packers history with a combination 1200 yard season by Grant and a 600-700 yard season by Starks. This of course barring injury.

Offensive Line: Although they tied for 10th in the NFL for most sacks allowed with 38, this group performed well in the playoffs.  They stymied the feared Steelers pass rush in Super Bowl XLV.  However this line did give up 15 sacks over the final 6 games of the regular season.  They must protect Aaron Rodgers better.  Rodgers made them look better with well timed escapes from the pocket that kept the sack totals lower than what they could have been.  Rookie RT Bryan Bulaga, 3rd year RG Josh Sitton, and center Scott Wells in his 7th season, simply need to get more push off the ball when rushing .  They tied for 8th with negative rushing plays running to the strong side with 17 during the regular season.  Again this is where they can improve and a bigger back in Starks may be the route they take.

On the left side is LT Chad Clifton, and another Boise State product in Daryn Colledge at left guard.  On the left side of the line the Packers were 24th with negative  rushing plays with only13.  A pretty good number for a team that runs a lot of draws and screens to their left.  Chad Clifton from time to time looks like he’s slowing down and then comes up with a big performance.  However facing the likes of Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and the Justin Tuck’s of the conference can wear him down.  The Packers may look to groom his replacement this year now they have the luxury of drafting for want and not need.  With Rodgers suffering two concussions last year, its imperative they protect him by getting those precious first downs rushing right (strong side) and protecting Rodgers from the weak side. Injured Tackle Mark Tauscher is getting a little older also and probably will be replaced permanently by Bulaga. Right now they are so set with the line with a good mixture of youth and age.

Receivers: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, an James Jones are deadly as a set of receivers.  Throw in a Jermichael Finley at TE with a mature Rodgers and this team can threaten some all time NFL offensive numbers.  Jordy Nelson’s growth and Super Bowl performance of 9 catches for 140 yards and a TD could spell the end of Donald Driver as a go to guy.  Not only did he not get down on himself during the Super Bowl after dropping several passes he proved to be more than an intermediate possession receiver.  He got deep, he made catch and run plays on digs or deep in routes and showed the burst that the fading Driver once did.  Driver is slowing down and a draft pick could be spent here.  James Jones had several key drops during the playoffs and the Packers aren’t sure which #89 is going to catch the ball.  Will it be the #89 that climbed the ladder for a spectacular leaping TD against the Atlanta Falcons, or the streaking #89 who dropped a sure TD in Philadelphia during the wildcard as well as the near TD that could have put Super Bowl XLV out of reach with a second 18 point lead.  Could see some change at receiver this year but at least two receivers two years from now.

Greg Jennings is an ultimate pro and team player.  Please pay attention this is a great player in the prime of his career. Entering his sixth season, this is a receiver who makes big play after big play when the Packers need it.  He’s had 3 straight 1,000 yard season with 2 back to back over 1,200 yards.  The last two years he has had touchdown longs of 83 yards and has caught at least 6 passes over 40 yards over the last three years.  Go back to the Super Bowl when Pittsburgh had swung the momentum, who came through with a 31 yard catch to turn the tide back to the Pack??  On third down to boot!!  He remains injury free he will go by many of Sterling Sharpe’s numbers. He’s not better than Sterling, he……I digress.  Jennings is going to be making music with Rodgers for years to come gang.

Defensive Line: Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji are decent at the point of attack but could be better anchors in keeping offensive lineman off of the linebackers. A little more push against the passing pocket could make a good defens a great one. In fact the key play that turned Super Bowl XLV was when backup Howard Green hit Roethlisberger which force the interception by Nick Collins and a 14-0 lead. Cullen Jenkins is a solid DE.  I could see a draft pick being used here as well.  The Packers could use a more impact player at the DE position.  Raji is a keeper but he does need to provide a little more push when rushing the passer.

Linebackers: Did the mantle of greatness leave the Steelers linebackers and thrust onto this team’s set?  Think thats overstated?  I watched James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and James Farrior combine for 4 tackles in the Super Bowl when Clay Matthews out did that hmself and forced a crucial 4th down fumble.  Clay Matthews came in 2nd in the voting for NFL Defensive MVP yet did get many votes to be Super Bowl MVP.  He,  A.J. Hawk, and their hair were the two starters who remained injury free and were the playmakers among the front seven.  Hawk became the linebacker the Packer’s brass envisioned when they drafted him from Ohio St.

I still am scratching my head thinking “They won the Super Bowl without Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett?”  To me, Poppinga had been the most complete LB before his injury and Barnett its soul.  Matthews has taken that mantle from them both.  As a unit this team could be frightening and their depth has to be considered a strength now that Zomba #58, Desmond Bishop #55 played admirably throughout the playoffs.  Throw in Brandon Chillar and I’m seeing a linebacking corps without a weakness.  Against the run, pass, rushing the QB, show me where they are deficient?  I’ll wait…

Clay Matthews is some kind of beast.  I thought his father was great, yikes.  This is going to be one of the faces of the NFL as Ray Lewis’ fades out with retirement.  The Packers should pull a coup and draft Casey Matthews of Oregon, yes his brother, just to confuse teams with the name and the hair when preparing for them.  LOL  In all seriousness being coached by Kevin Greene who is in tune with his young protege’, who told him in the Super Bowl that it was time for him to make a play.  Next play he forced the Mendenhall fumble.  We’re watching the beginnings of perhaps a Hall of Fame career and he did get my Super Bowl MVP vote for that fumble.  Hey, I like linebackers.

Secondary: Charles Woodson, the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year had just as good a year in 2010.  The emergence of Sam Shields (from the U) allowed him to blitz from the nickel back  spot just as Dom Capers did with Rod Woodson some 15 years ago in Blitzburgh. Sam Shields as a rookie got better as the season wore on and capped his season with two timely interceptions in the NFC Championship Game v. Chicago.  Did I say two interceptions in a playoff game?  Well Tramon Williams #38 performed that feat in the divisonal round and put that game against the Falcons out of reach with a pick six of Matt Ryan on the last play of the second quarter.  Did I say intercepti0n for a TD?  Well isn’t that what Nick Collins did in Super Bowl XLV to put that game out of reach?  I know it was only 14-0, but no team has ever come from a 10-0 deficit to win a Super Bowl, so that play was that big.  This is a cornerback threesome that is headed to a great 2011.  Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are the NFC’s best set of safetys.  Please show me what this secondary can’t do.  Support the run, defend the deep ball, blitz the quarterback…very little holes.

This is a team that will draft for want more than need.  They almost have a free agency type of impact just coming off injured reserve.  Aside from a few spots on the defensive line and possibly the offensive line this team damn near doesn’t need to even attend the NFL Draft.  They can address future needs at receiver also.  Right now Coach McCarthy, Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson are toasting somewhere with grins from ear to ear.  The Packers are set for a five year run at the top of the NFL easily.

Packers 13th NFL Championship: Super Bowl XLV Recap

Wow!!  You can’t say enough great things about this Green Bay Packers team as champions.  In 1996 they arrived with all their big guns in Favre, Reggie White, and company.  Where this team had 16 men on injured reserve and lost leaders WR Donald Driver and CB Charles Woodson for much of the game.  Yet the constant was Aaron Rodgers who kept firing amidst a receiving corp that dropped a few.  When it counted Jordy Nelson and James Jones made up for earlier drops with critical catches in the fourth quarter on the final scoring drive.  They indeed brought the Lombardi Trophy home in a unique way and vanquished an accomplished opponent.  Lets take a look at things.

What was a strength of the Steelers would be the ability to run the ball with Rashard Mendenhall.  At times it seemed like the Steelers got away from their running game but a closer look and you saw that the Packers were successful against the run.  Aside from 17 and 15 yard gains, Mendenhall had 12 carries for 31 yards (2.8yd avg) and on several plays he had to break tackles in the backfield to gain positive yardage.  Evidenced by the shot he took in the 4th quarter from Clay Matthews which forced the 3rd and final Steeler turnover.

What was the defining storyline of this Super Bowl for me was for all the Steel Curtain talk, the Packers were outhitting the Steelers from the beginning of the game.  They tackled crisper and with more conviction. We never heard NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu’s name called for any plays of significance and former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison’s until a fourth quarter sack to give Pittsburgh a fighting chance.  Green Bay had problems protecting Rodgers all year yet seemed to keep the Steelers blitz at bay for much of the game.  Pittsburgh cornerbacks, a liability all year, were completely undressed before the nation.  Had the Packer receivers not dropped 6 passes the game would have been a blowout.

In fact had James Jones not dropped that skinny post where he was inside William Gay and even with Troy Polamalu, he would have been off to the races and the score would have swelled to 28-10.  It was the mid point of the 3rd quarter and another 18 point lead would have been too much to overcome.

Actually that point was when Nick Collins picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter, returning it for a 37 yard TD for a 14-0 lead.  No team had ever come back from a 10-0 deficit to win a Super Bowl game. (Redskins in XXII)  The Steeler gave it a valiant effort but could not overcome their mistakes and penalties.

Roethlisberger had a poor game, no other way to say it.  He did have a few good throws, the fourth quarter TD throw to Mike Wallace was a thing of beauty.  He was off for much of the night.  His throws were high and they seemed confused on that last drive in just lining up. Yes the Packers had good coverage but Roethlisberger detractors would cite his holding onto the ball too long with the Nick Collins interception.  The second interception was a poor decision also.  Yes the receiver needs to fight for the ball but he was clearly double covered.  When the Steelers defense gave Ben the ball back, on social media, the countenance that he was in position to win it again was echoed loudly.  Then Pittsburgh looked confused lining up after a terrible penalty by Keyaron Fox for a personal foul that backed the Steelers up.  Then three poor throws and it was over.

This is about the Green Bay Packers winning this Super Bowl, not the Steelers losing it.  Green Bay forced every Steeler mistake and only gave up a first half TD when two of their top three cornerbacks Woodson and Sam Shields left injured on consecutive plays right before.  Aaron Rodgers MVP performance easily places him in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL.  He lit Pittsburgh up finding Greg Jennings for two TDs and making a Super Bowl hero of Jordy Nelson, who caught 9 for 140 yards and a touchdown.  His stats on the day 24 of 39 for 309 yards, 3TDs & no interceptions.  If you factor in the dropped passes his stats would have been staggering.

There was a time during the 3rd quarter, after the James Jones drop, where Rodgers played with nervous feet and was off for two series.

When the Steelers trimmed the lead to 28-25 in the 4th quarter, Rodgers made the play of the game with his throw to Greg Jennings for 31 yards which reversed the momentum.  He drove the Packers to a field goal for the final score of 31-25 and the milking of the clock left the Steelers with just 2:07 for a final drive.  Rodgers was the MVP of this game upon further review however he did have some help.  James Starks did run for 52 yards on 11 carries that kept the Steelers off balance.  Clay Matthews, AJ Hawk and Nick Collins picked up the defensive slack and stopped Roethlisberger when it counted.

The Lombardi Trophy returns to Title Town…Aaron Rodgers enters the realm of the league’s best quarterback.  With 16 players on injured reserve, I don’t see teams picking them apart in free agency. The Green Bay Packers just won the Super Bowl with a second string football team!!  How can they not be the pick to win next year’s Super Bowl??  There will be time to answer that…for now congratulations Green Bay Packers 2010 World Champions.

Super Bowl XLV Pick? After Further Review

Super Bowl XLV Preview (Part II)

Man, I love the roman numerals of the Super Bowl.  We’re two days away from the 45th Super Sunday and in the back of my mind I can hear the late Don Meredith when he announced when he was right outside the San Gabriel Mountains and about to bring you the 11th Super Sunday! I wish I had his voice or Dick Enberg’s to start this one off… yet time marches on.  So let’s get after the finale of this game.

Are the Steelers on the verge of 3 Super Bowls in 6 years? Does that qualify as a dynasty?  I don’t think it qualifies as a dynasty because there wasn’t a back to back win involved.  Early Super Bowl era dynasties were winning two in a row to separate themselves from other champions.  Then Dallas went 3 of 4 as did the ‘00’s Patriots, which changed the landscape. So who’s going to win??

Steelers Front 7 on Defense: I believe in LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and James Harrison.  This is one of the best linebacking corps ever in the NFL and it’s time to recognize them. When they brought back Larry Foote #50 from his Detroit sabbatical he has helped solidify their goal line defense.  Watch Fox #57 along the goal line also.  I’d like to see him on the field more instead of Lawrence Timmons.  James Farrior has played so well for the Steelers everyone forgets he started as a Bill Parcells New York Jet. He absolutely knocked Shonn Greene’s chinstrap loose with a great hit in the AFC Championship Game.  They scrape into running lanes and stonewall runners and pass rush with the best of linebacking corps that I have seen, but what makes this group different is the muscle with which they can stand up to blocking linemen.

Brett Keisel, beard and all, along with Casey Hampton and emerging Zigy Hood are just immovable.  They are only allowing 60 yards rushing which is among the best in history near the 2000 Ravens numbers.  This is the NFL and if you can’t run you can’t win.  If they haven’t been moved in 18 games what makes you think they’ll be moved in the 19th??

Packers Front 7 on Defense: B.J. Raji is coming into his own as a pro player up front but its Cullen Jenkins who has been playing like his brother Kris.  The Packers have become stronger against the point of attack when opponents try to run.  They still miss the speed of Brady Poppinga, and Nick Barnett but have made up for it from stellar play by Clay Matthews.  He has grown into one of the best pass rushers and is taught by one of the best ever in former Steeler Kevin Greene.  A.J. Hawk has been a pin to hold down running games and cover tight ends also.  Not since Lawrence Taylor has a defense leaned so much on one play making linebacker.

The Packers can be run on somewhat between the tackles and some off tackle.  They have proven to be stout during the playoffs but only faced one grade “A” running back in Atlanta’s Michael Turner.  The Falcons had some success but the Packers taking a commanding lead took the ball out of his hands. Can they stop Mendenhall? Hmmmmm… Can they slow him? Uh

Advantage Steelers: As the question went unanswered earlier, if you can’t move a defense in 18 games how do you expect to do so in the 19th?? To be run on you have to be pushed off the ball and this defense can’t be moved. After a few penalties and an 18 play drive where they were tired, they stopped the Jets on 4th and goal in the AFC Championship Game.  Keep in mind that the Packers began the season unable to protect Aaron Rodgers and they really haven’t in the playoffs.  He’s just escaped and run from any spirited danger.  He’s not running from Woodley and Harrison.

I see Matthews getting after Big Ben as well but he’s too much of a focal point where the Steelers can gameplan to minimize his effectiveness.  A lot like what happened with A.J. Duhe when he was with Miami against the Redskins and make him go through additional blockers.  The Packers will also abandon the run first which will allow Woodley, Farrior, and Harrison will collapse Green Bay’s pocket

Steelers Receivers v. Packers Secondary: Mike Wallace came into his own this year and rookie Antonio Brown, are both speed receivers that may sneak deep. At tight end Heath Miller is a sure handed receiver and a good blocker.  Hines Ward is one of the reasons the other receivers will get deep by putting lumps on Packer defensive backs and linebackers with his run blocking.  He’s also still there to help the Steelers with the possession routes and is a former Super Bowl MVP who is playing his last game.  Look for Hines to get Big Ben out of trouble at least 7 times in this game.

Charles Woodson, Sam Shields (The U), and Tramon Williams #38 have been good on the corners all year.  Woodson, last year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has become one of the best defensive backs in football.  When they go to a nickel defense, Woodson will cover Hines Ward or blitz from the slot.  Shields and company have smothered receivers in this year’s playoffs.  Each had two interception games in this year’s playoffs, Shields in the NFC Championship, and Tremond putting the Falcons away on the last play of the 1st half.

Each group is young and fast…

Advantage Push:

Packers Receivers v. Steelers Secondary: The Packers receivers are going to get open in this football game.   Greg Jennings is on a tear, Donald Driver is a possession receiver with a ton of fight in him, and Jones is a capable big play receiver who can make the big play left in one on one coverage.  Will Jones drop the easy pass like he did in the Wildcard v. Philadelphia or will he catch the ball and dominate like he did against Atlanta?  They have been getting open with great routes for the last two years for Aaron Rodgers.

This secondary of the Steelers is its weakest link and they are weak on the corner.  They bank on superior rush to keep them from being exposed.  Ike Taylor, and nickel back William Gay can be taken advantage of.  Before the Ravens game in week a stat was put up on NFL.com that they were 22nd against the pass as a secondary.  The strength is Ryan Clark and present NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu. Troy’s made timely plays in this season that earned this award outright.  He’s the most instinctive player in the NFL. Ryan Clark made the two biggest plays in the AFC Championship game forcing the two third quarter turnovers that allowed Pittsburgh to come from behind.

Advantage Packers slightly…

Pick for the Game: Steelers 27-24. The pass rush will get to Rodgers and the Packers won’t be able to run the ball. Roethlisberger will be the MVP